In our travels in search of the ancient Buddha statues of Tamil Nadu, we came across many Buddha and Bodhisattva statues from the 1st – 16th Century CE timeframe. As of today, though Tamilians are not so much aware of the history of Buddhism in the Tamil land, and though many of them consider Buddhism to be a foreign system belonging to Sri Lanka, the fact is the other way around. From almost every district of Tamil Nadu, ancient Buddha statues have been discovered. Tamil Nadu had wide-spread presence of all forms of Buddhism including Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana. Many great Buddhist scholars and Yogis were also from there including Bodhidharma, Dignaga, Buddhaghosha, Dhammapala, Dharmakirthi, Chandrakirthi and Dharmapala. According to Tibetan master Taranatha, Guru Padmasambhava stayed in Tamil Nadu for many years and taught Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism there. There are also historical accounts of Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka being revived in the 13th Century by inviting monks from Tamil Nadu.
Kanchi (Kanchipuram) in Tamil Nadu was the most significant Buddhist center of learning in South India. Kanchi produced world-renowned scholars and masters of Buddhism such as Bodhidharma, Dignaga, Dharmapala, Buddhaghosa, etc., spanning across Sravakayana and Mahayana. It is also one of the twenty-four power places of Vajrayana Buddhism.
Poompuhar was probably the earliest of the cities in the Dravida Land to have a Buddhist presence, right from the early Sangam period itself. Remains of a monastery and ancient Buddha statues were obtained from this place.
Pondicherry has a few ancient Buddha statues from the 10th to 12th Century. Two of them are in Museum and one is worshipped in a temple in Ariyankuppam. Another is lost.
A 16th Century TIbetan Buddhist Master, Taranatha mentions about Tamil Nadu’s Pakshitheertham’s Buddhist past in his book ‘History of Buddhism in India’. This place continued to have that association with birds till recently.
Around 350 statues of Buddha and Bodhisattvas and some stupas were uncovered from Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu a century back showing the widespread presence all schools of Buddhism including Mahayana and Vajrayana in this locality. Buddhists artifacts from this locality dates from the 2nd Century CE to 17th Century CE, making it one of the first as well as last citadels of Buddhism in South India.
Statues and Stupas from Sellur in Later Chola Period In 2004, T. Ramalingam, a farmer…
There was widespread presence of Buddhism in the Thiruvarur district of Tamil Nadu for a very long period. Statues and other Buddhist artifacts were discovered from places like Thirunellikaval, Kodavasal, Valangaiman, Sellur, Kiranur, etc.
Perambalur district of Tamil Nadu has two ancient Buddha statues. One of them, a 5ft high statue in Ogalur village is known locally as ‘Dubai Buddha’. Around 10km from Ogalur is another village called Paravai. There, in a bus stop in a four-way junction sits another ancient Buddha statue around 4ft in height.
Revealing the rich heritage of Buddhism in Thanjavur and Kumbakonam from its ancient period, many statues of Buddha and Bodhisattvas were obtained.
A majestic vestige of the foregone era of Buddhism in Pushpavanam, Nagapattinam can be seen at the coastal village of Pushpavnam in Tamil Nadu. There sits a Buddha statue beneath an ancient banyan tree.
The presensce of Mahayana Buddhism in Tiruchirappalli is all through the Chola period is evident from some of the Buddha statues recovered from this region.
There was strong presence of Buddhism in Ariyalur district of Tamil Nadu, as it is evident from the abundance of ancient Buddha statues found there. The etymology of the place also indicates that it was a prominent centre of Buddhist leaning.
In Mangalam, Musiri Talkuk, Tamil Nadu, there is an ancient Buddha statue that looks like Guru Rinpoche. According to Tibetan scholar Taranatha, Guru Rinpoche has also taught in Kanchi in Tamil Nadu.
In Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu, many ancient Buddhist remains were rediscovered over the last century. Of those, Peruncheri and Buddhamangalam have a large statue of Buddha each now preserved in small viharas.
As can be expected from the names of these places, Salem and Dharmapuri are rich in their Buddhist heritage. We can spot some unique Buddha statues in Salem district. The name Dharmapuri (the City of Dharma) indicates that it was a Buddhist center during the ancient days.
Just as in the rest of Tamil Nadu, the presence of Buddhism in Tiruvannamalai district in ancient times is also revealed by ancient Buddha statues and other archeological remains found in Padavedu.
The presence of Buddhism in the Cuddalore district of Tamil Nadu is evident from ancient statues of Buddha found in Thiruvathigai and Pennadam, as well as from the local legends related to the Veerattaneswarar temple.
An ancient Buddha statue found in Ulagiyanallur and the dilapidated structure of a vihara from the first millennium is clear evidence of the presence of Buddhism in Kallakurichi dist, Tamil Nadu.
An ancient Buddhist Stupa is found in Putheri, on the outskirts of Nagercoil, in the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu. This Stupa is, as of now, the southernmost Buddhist Stupa found in India. A statue of a standing Buddha holding an alms bowl can be seen in front of the Stupa.
Soon to come
- Ancient Buddha Statues of South Tamil Nadu